After months of indecision I finally started to write a post in this magnificent blog. I decided to talk about a paper, not about its content, you can read it if you want (find the link at the end of the post), no, I am going to talk about its story. Like all good stories this one starts in a castle. I was working there for two years and during my first days there was a PhD student finishing his degree and doing really interesting experiments with birds. Helping him capturing birds, and doing the experiments, in particular the facts that surrounded all the process of creating this paper, was the most important hook to make me decide my future as a researcher.
For me it was the first time I was directly involved in the initial thought process of testing a hypothesis, thinking what would be the best way to proceed with the experiment, how many individuals would they need, which would be the best statistical approach… At that point I was just an innocent undergraduate listening to conversations between a PI and a PhD candidate and had no idea what was going on…
Everything started while I was just sitting on my table looking at those two men using weird words and talking about hypothesis and possible procedures that at that point sounded like magic to me.
Anyways the time went by, I entered a few times into the room during the experimental process probably messing up the test that he was doing… he never said anything bad to me… if someone did that to me right now I would be pissed… how different things are when you learn how costly it is to have enough N. After the experimental period came the statistical analysis that was even more unreal. I learned how amazing and infinite is a thing named R, and how even though it looks like you know what you are doing, sometimes a PI can be as lost as an innocent undergrad.
Once everything seemed finally over, the “Final123.98.doc” file was done the graphs added in the right size and the references in the right format I though ok this is over, that was not that bad, they made it!
Oh dear… the publication madness started. They sent it to Nature, just to try, they said laughing… in less than 24 hours it was rejected; man, that was fast, it was a funny day at the office. Then they sent it to Biology Letters that I think was the first choice but who doesn’t want to try for a Nature… The answer from them took longer and came with the reviewer comments that I am not going to go into detail because I just remember lots of swearing and changing order of words or explaining what the birds had for breakfast the second day they were in captivity. The only thing I clearly remember about this process was the crazy fight for the title! The journal though that to include the word “Sexy” in a title talking about birds was inappropriate… At the end it became personal, one day I heard “I am not going to publish the paper if it does not have the word sexy on it!!” … I think there was also an old betting involved in that title… Well after few months the paper got accepted with the word Sexy in the title, and something happened… Now after knowing a bit more how the publication world works I think that the word “Sexy” was the trigger, the hook for the events that happened the next few days after publication. The author started receiving phone calls from journalists from different countries like England, Germany, Spain… all interested in the paper. He did some interviews for radio stations and some outreaching journals! Everyone was really stunned; they knew they did a good job but you normally do not expect this reaction from a paper… and finally the cherry… Nature sent an email to my friend telling him that his paper would appear as a highlight in their next journal.
The complete article can be found here.